Arnold Schwarzenegger’s most famous role is “The Terminator.” The role made the muscle man a star simply based on his menacing appearance alone. Let’s face it. The guy looks pretty cool in the black leather jacket with sunglasses while riding a motorcycle. The shotgun and uzi complete the appearance as well. All that he needs to do now is say “I’ll be back!” and you’ve got one of the most memorable film characters in history.
Director James Cameron with future wife and producer Gale Anne Hurd conceived this time traveling sci fi flick with next to no money and churned out what first feels like a Friday the 13th slasher film for “USA Up All Night,” but then became a little more thought provoking. You might work too hard questioning the time travel nonsense. However, the idea is so simple and yet so smart.
Schwarzenegger is a cyborg designed to look human with flesh and blood who travels from the year 2029 to 1984 to assasinate Sarah Connor (Linda Hamilton), a woman who becomes the mother of the would be leader of resistance fighters against a dominant machine army that has eradicated most of the human population. To fend off the Terminator and protect Sarah, a human fighter, Kyle Reese (Michael Biehn), has also travelled back in time.
James Cameron is a director of craftsmanship. He assembles riveting action sequences and his visual effects with makeup designs from Stan Winston are marvelous, especially considering the limited funds he had to work with. The dark, bleak future showing the war of the machines is well staged with vast lands of waste and crushed skulls. Laser beams dart across the screen with blaring Atari like sound effects. It’s not the most sophisticated, but it works.
The acting is very over the top however. Schwarzenegger is fine as he just needs to be robotic like the role demands. He hardly has any lines actually. Biehn and Hamilton needed a few more acting lessons though. Hamilton’s fear is terribly unconvincing and Biehn is overly dramatic. Their chemistry is also a little sour. They look great together if you saw them on a page of Tiger Beat or Starlog magazine, but their acting scenes fall flat. The script’s dialogue doesn’t help them either, but James Cameron was never big on dialogue anyway. There’s a reason that his masterpiece “Titanic” got all of those Oscar nominations except for screenplay.
Still, because the film is mostly steeped in wall to wall action that’s very well edited and the idea for this new kind of sci fi thriller is so inventive, “The Terminator” is one for the ages. It’s a film that can definitely be watched on repeat.
It’s best to take the story seriously while feeling exhilarated by the car chases and shootouts (especially in a police precinct with 30 cops), but it’s okay to roll your eyes at the ham on rye with cheese & mayo acting too.